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This Is Why Your Neck and Back Hurt So Much After Work

By Ching Dee for Belo Medical Group on March 6, 2021

Remember how our elders would remind us to sit up straight when we’re slumping? Turns out they were really on to something, and it’s not just about looking presentable. There’s a big chance your neck and back hurt so much during or after working on your desk is because of your posture, which is affected by the way you set up your workstation (whether at home or at the office).

In an article from Penn Medicine, Ivy League University of Pennsylvania’s school of medicine, orthopaedic spine surgeon Dr. Harvey E. Smith points out something most of us are guilty of. “We basically spend most of our time hunched over instead of sitting upright, and that puts more of a load on your back and your neck’s muscles,” says Dr. Smith. “We take the time to set up our homes, so that the TV we watch for hours at a time is at eye level. Yet, we’ll work 8 hours a day in our office and not take the time to place our computers on eye level.”

Enter: Office ergonomics.

Office ergonomics is “the study of the kind of work you do, the environment you work in, and the tools you use to do your job,” according to HealthLink BC, one of the biggest collections of health information services in British Columbia, Canada. The aim of office ergonomics is to enable you to set up the ideal work space that fits your needs.

In the same HealthLink article, it’s mentioned that “most injuries that happen at work are caused by physical stress and strain, such as sitting in the same position for a long time, making repetitive movements, and overuse. These injuries can cause stress and strain on your muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, blood vessels, and spine. Symptoms can include pain in your back, hand, wrist, arms, neck, and shoulders.” With the help of proper office ergonomics, you can lower the chances of stress and injury caused by work-related activities.

Here are some practical tips from the Mayo Clinic and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to make your workstation more ergonomic and lessen strain on your body.

Chair

Adjust, adjust, adjust. The Mayo Clinic and the NHS recommend that everyone adjust their chairs until: it supports your back firmly, your feet are resting flat on the floor (or footrest), your thighs are parallel to the floor or your knees are slightly lower than hips, and until your wrists and forearms are level with your keyboard. The armrests on your chair should also allow you to rest your arms with your shoulders relaxed.

Desk

According to the Mayo Clinic (and common sense), there should be enough space for your knees, thighs, and feet under your desk. If needed, use sturdy blocks to raise your table or use a footrest to support your legs. You can also add a padding on the edge of your desk facing you so you’ll have a comfy wrist rest while typing.

Screen

Two words: Eye level. By positioning your monitor/screen at eye level, you’ll lessen the need to bend your neck, relieving it from strain. Both the Mayo Clinic and NHS suggest the top of the monitor should be at eye level. If needed, you can use a monitor stand. Trust us, it’ll be worth the small investment.

The NHS also recommends using an anti-glare screen. You can do this by purchasing a matte screen protector or by positioning the screen away from overhead light, reflections, or direct sunlight.

The brightness of your screen should also be adjusted to a level that’s comfortable for your eyes – not too bright, but not too dark that you’ll strain your peepers.

Keyboard & Mouse

The key is to keep your tools as close to your body as possible in order to lessen the need to reach over your desk. A good way to check is if your elbows form an L-shape while you type and if your wrists are at the same level as your forearms (not bent or overextended). Always remember to “keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows” while typing or using your mouse, according to the NHS. Use a wrist pad if needed.

Phone & Other Tools

Again, keep your tools – like your telephone, pens, stapler, calculator – as close to your body as possible to lessen the need to stretch or twist to reach them. If you spend a lot of time on the phone for work, you can consider investing on a good headset (if it’s wireless, that’s even bette). This lessens the need for you to bend your neck to cradle the phone while talking and typing at the same time.

Breaks

While office ergonomics addresses the efficiency of your work station by keeping things within reach as much as possible, it’s important to stand up from your chair frequently and take a little walk around the room to relax the pressure on your spine even for just a few minutes.

When your workstation is set up right, you’ll have less strain on your neck, back, and even your eyes, which can help you be more productive at work and possibly improve your mood after a busy day.

If you’d like to see these tips in action, you can watch ergonomics expert Jon Cinkay from the Hospital for Special Surgery, the top hospital in the US for orthopaedics, in this video by the Wall Street Journal. Stay productive and healthy, Belo Beauties!

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